Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Richard Hooker in the Declaration of Independence


The Founders stood on the shoulders of giants,
who stood on the shoulders of giants
by Tom Van Dyke


This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question...---John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government [1690]

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal..."---the American Declaration of Independence [1776]

Who is this "judicious Hooker," who died in 1600? Not a fair-minded Lady of Delight, but a philosopher-theologian named Richard Hooker, formally Rev. Richard Hooker of Exeter, England, the "Father of Anglicanism."

As a theologian, he helped negotiate a "third way" for Anglicanism [Church of England, known as "Episcopal" in the US] between the reforms of Protestantism and the the Roman Catholic origins of the English Church.

As a theologian, he came down Protestant; however, in his 1593 Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, he made the theological argument for "tolerance" and against doctrinal "purity": basically, that God doesn't care all that much about which church believes what, that grace falls on all Christians, and even planted the radical idea that non-Christians weren't necessarily Damned for All Time.

Back in 1593, Rev. Hooker was tracing the outlines of the American political theology.

As a philosopher, Hooker was a follower of Aquinas' system, a "Thomist," or an "Aristotelian-Thomist," if one prefers. John Locke often used "the judicious Hooker" as his starting point in his writing. American Founder James Wilson, who signed the Declaration and was one of the major voices in the Framing, also referred to him as "the judicious Hooker."

Although Hooker opposed papism [the Roman Church], Pope Clement VIII himself said of his book: "It has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning."

King James I, he of the "Divine Right of Kings" controversy: "I observe there is in Mr. Hooker no affected language; but a grave, comprehensive, clear manifestation of reason, and that backed with the authority of the Scriptures, the fathers and schoolmen, and with all law both sacred and civil."

The statue of Richard Hooker in Exeter is revered by man and beast alike, and small wonder. Here was a giant, who's still studied for his brilliance [and kindness] in the 21st century by theologian and philosopher alike, upon whose shoulders Locke and Jefferson and the Founders---and we the living---still stand.

We can't tell the story of religion and the Founding without Richard Hooker, and there's so much more work to be done: how he was in the air and his thoughts taken for granted as self-evident. Here was a man, a giant of a man. We breathe him to this day.














a "Thomist" [meaning following the philosophical method of Thomas Aquinas],

Even if it's a helluva coincidence, it simply cannot be, considering both Locke and Hooker were mentioned in the same breath by Locke himself.

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